CFP: Anthropology on the Ground – insiders, advocates, collaborators, and activists.

Call for proposals for April 16-18, 2015 SANA conference @ John Jay College, CUNY, NYC.

 Anthropologists can stand witness. We can accept our social complicity while acting against structural violence. We can enact a direct commitment to be there on the ground as witnesses and actors for change. This track seeks anthropologists and community activists who are engaged on the ground, as witnesses to social justice struggles, as activists, as advocates. We seek submissions from those who share with us the view of “the field,” not as a place for data extraction but, instead, as places of theory formation, praxis, and activist-oriented witnessing.

This track picks up the promise of our disciplinary practices through an invitation to explore the various ways in which we have done, are doing, and could do anthropology with a specific focus of being on the ground, alongside of and as witness to the social dramas that make up the quotidian aspects of human life and mark the moments of disjuncture and transformation. Picking up a central concept within indigenous intellectual theory and cultural practice, the act of witnessing, this track calls on anthropologists engaged as insider researchers, advocates, collaborators, and activists to consider the points within which their practice identifies points of inequality and difference while moving toward a just society in which difference is valued and equality is the norm.

In current movements for social justice we –anthropologists- can stand witness and accept our social complicity while acting against structural violence through a direct commitment to be there on the ground as witnesses and actors for change. This track seeks submissions from anthropologists and community activists who are engaged on the ground, as witnesses to social justice struggles, as activists, as advocates. We seek submissions from those who share with us the view of “the field,” not as a place for data extraction but, instead, as places of theory formation, praxis, and activist-oriented witnessing. Within our diversity of approach, focus, and orientations we can find common ground as witnesses to change and struggle. Indigenous movements for justice are at the core of any program for social justice – no redress or realignment of US, Canadian, or Mexican racialized state violence can begin without confronting the underlying act of Imperialist aggression that laid the foundation for subsequent generations of structural and interpersonal violence. That said, no Indigenous movement for social justice can be an island unto itself; tactical and strategic alliance with other social justice movements is necessary.

The track will focus on four key sections or quadrants. This use of four is a deliberate reference to the four directions of the Indigenous medicine wheel. This pan-Indian symbol builds upon the Indigenous intellectual traditions of North America in ways that have contemporary resonance. This also builds upon the recognition that redress to fundamental inequities will not be achieved without reconciling with the original theft and displacement of Indigenous lands. While each section will be focused on one quadrant of the medicine wheel, within each session we will draw upon the four directions to ensure that a balanced discussion and experience arises.

  • North: movements of domination
  • South: movements for immigrant rights
  • West: social justice in the face of structural state violence
  • East: we are idle no more

Participants are asked to prepare a discussion paper to be circulated in advance. Participants are also encouraged to prepare for display during the conference a poster, a video installation, or a photographic essay that relates to and elaborates upon their paper. The multi-media works will be displayed in a central location (ideally the space that this track occupies) and open to all conference participants.

For more details about the track, contact charles.menzies@ubc.ca To submit to the conference contact sanaconference2015@gmail.com


Deadlines: are they real?

Should I trust a deadline and consider it to be something real?  Around the end of term that is surely a question rolling through the minds of many students. There is a entire genre of student folk-advice on managing deadlines and the professors that impose them.  Here’s a few thoughts from the angle of a deadline guardian.

Deadlines are arbitrary. As such, they are also flexible. Just because of this don’t assume that you can avoid a deadline.  There are serious consequences for missing deadlines.  I’ve lost book contracts and publishing opportunities over deadlines.  I’ve missed planes, appointments, and social gatherings.  Just the same we all (well, maybe not all) of us push the boundaries of deadlines.  As someone on the both the giving and receiving end of deadline pushing I’d like to suggest some general principles and observations on deadlines and how to approach them.

1) Deadlines are real. They are also arbitrary, but only within an abstract sense of that word. As a professor I can set the deadlines for assignments when I want – so arbitrary. However, I must have grades in by a set date (though I know of folks who push those deadlines too). When I set deadlines for assignments I take into account my thinking on what other people are doing, the administrative deadlines I face, the amount of student work I am assigning, the length of time I give students notice, and how long it will take me to mark the assignments.

2) Some profs appear ‘nice.’  We are the ones who get asked more frequently for deadline extensions. Please don’t confuse our outwardly calm and pleasant demeanour to mean we are totally okay with extending your deadline.  We might be wondering why the x@#l you aren’t asking Professor Holiday for an extension instead (maybe you are?).  My niceness might be a product of 25+ years of observations noting that even with that extra time the only person being fooled is the deadline pusher and the final product is no different than it would have been if done on time.

3) You have arrived at this point because of timing. Most related deadlines are known well enough in advance to be able to comply with them effortlessly.  From the vantage point of the first class of term  the end of the term deadline feels like a lifetime away (until it hits hard with half a paper completed).  Most undergrad papers can be completed competently within 3-5 days – start to finish.  In a regular school term a student has at least 85 days to prepare.  There should be no issue.  Of course there are: other courses, personal relationships, families, recreation, worry, anxiety, work, etc….  All the more reason to follow the advice that each student knows too well: plan.

4) Don’t explain, just ask. This is my most important piece of advice.  The very act of asking raises doubts about the veracity of your explanation.  So it is best to simply say “may I have have an extension please.” Then provide an explanation only if asked.  Guardians of deadlines hear all sorts of explanations.  We become jaded to the genre of excuse of which there are several varieties.  Please note that we try to consider these explanations at face value.  Yet, after years of hearing the same variations play like bad mall music you might appreciate we have lost our sense of wonder a tiny bit. Just the same, these are often stories based in reality and thus we do take them as they are given.

  • The sob story: These heart wrenching tales focus on the ways in which an immeasurable sense of grief has overtaken the writer and frozen their capacity to work.  One of my favourite versions comes from a friend who would explain to his profs that his girlfriend was pregnant and he wasn’t sure if he could hold on in school, he needed some space to deal with things….  At the time I wondered, did those profs ever count how many times this ‘girlfriend’ seemed to get pregnant? There are grief laden events in people’s lives that do affect us and disrupt our normal processes; I’m just not convinced that they occur at  quite at the rate that I observe as a deadline guardian.
  • The I can do better story: This is a variant that always puzzles me.  I appreciate that the storyteller here is wanting to convey the message: “I am a great student and under normal circumstances would have had this in on time but its not up to the quality I know I can produce so I need more time.” This student wants to reassure the deadline guardian that they mean no offence, that in fact their request of additional time is made out of respect for the deadline guardian. Interesting idea, not sure I agree with the sentiment. Ultimately this story reveals a kind of abdication of personal ownership over one’s own actions and a lack of reality – all things in life are time limited and we will never have enough to do the kind of job we think we can.
  • Professor Holliday assigned his paper for the same day story. I would respectfully ask that any student with a variant of this story seriously reconsider telling it. Put your self into Professor Nice’s shoes.  What do you think are the inside thoughts are when we hear this story?  Are we being respected or rolled over?  This is one of the worst excuse stories (irrespective of whether or not it is true).
  • The beyond my control story:  Circumstances beyond my control prevented me from completing the assignment by the specified day. This all purpose story is often stated in such a way that the listener is usually afraid to ask just what those circumstances are. These are one of the rarest stories deadline pushers tell. Thus, it  lends credence to the notion they may also be the most honest.  This storyline could involve any number of unstated disruptions that might range from too many nights at the pub to a tragic accident.  I suppose one could conclude that this might be the preferred story to deploy if one were in the need to deploy an excuse.

At the end of the day I would urge students to consider deadlines real.  Plan your term and drop courses if you can’t manage them and all the other things you are doing.  Also, don’t think that there should be no consequences for not getting it done on time.  That is the real driver behind the excuses, a refusal to accept the consequences that come from not making a deadline.  Asking for an extension is really about asking to avoid the consequences of not meeting a deadline.  I’m not that concerned about people missing deadlines – that’s your decision. Students are free to miss a deadline, but just as in other parts of life, there are consequences.

The best approach is, as my friend and mentor was often fond of saying, “It doesn’t have to be good, it has to be done Friday.”


A Statement on the US Police State

A version of the following statement was approved on Friday by the section assembly of the American Anthropological Association. As the President of one of the sections (Society for the Anthropology of Work) I participated in the discussions and urged the assembly to pass the statement. Personally, I found some issues with the wording of the statement, but was in full agreement with the intend, the importance, and the timeliness of the resolution. What follows is my personal revision of the statement. 

As a professional Canadian anthropologist I share the outrage expressed by my U.S. colleagues over the failure of the Ferguson and Staten Island grad juries to indict the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the dismissal of the case against the officer who killed 7 year old Aiyanna Jones.  In the hundred days since the killing of Michael Brown, U.S. police forces have also killed 12 year old Tamar Rice, Ezell Ford, Darien Hunt, Aura Rain Rosser, Tanisha Anderso, Roshad McIntosh, Akai Gurley, Vonderitt Myers, and Rumain Brisbon, among others. These incidents reflect a blatant disregard for the value and dignity of their lives and the communities in which they live.  These events are representative of a broader U.S. history of systematic anti-black violence, dating back to enslavement, lynch laws, and the prison-industrial complex that affects black Latino, and Indigenous children, men, women, and gender queer people.

As a member of an academic discipline that rose on the backs of research conducted on and about my people, Indigenous North Americans, I understand the roots of state violence.  While U.S.  ideologies hold that we are all equal under the law, this has never been the case, and in fact inequality has been structured into the justice system from the start and is currently escalating in the U.S. via the militarization of local police forces.

To this end the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association is called upon to:

  • make a formal statement condemning these activities and structural conditions.
  • create a task force on police brutality and extra-judicial violence; and
  • call on the U.S. Justice Department to review the use of force by police and to make a commitment to working for the eradication of racism and racialized state violence.

Charles R Menzies